What you do -/ what other people notice

A lot of what we do in our lives is little else but posing for the camera – and all too often, people like Calvin’s dad are the guys watching the pictures. Or, perhaps even more often, they’re the guys not watching the pictures (as David Foster Wallace put it, you’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do).

A belated thank you to Plamus for his kind words in this comment. I left two responses after that, but in neither of them did it even cross my mind that I ought to thank him for his kind words, insted focusing on the ‘correctness’ of the statements.

I’m a very self-centered individual and it’s an aspect I should be working far more with than I am. Even if the guy with the camera probably doesn’t notice one way or the other.


April 22, 2011 - Posted by | comics, Personal


  1. We all think that we are oh-so-special – in all sorts of aspects. In the end most of us are really similar, sometimes frighteningly so. With that in mind I don’t think that you should beat yourself up for being self-centered – because we all are.

    It’s your blog. You put up posts containing your points of view. When readers comment the issue is most often about these views, so of course you focus on that, and not (always) on being polite and accepting the comlpliments left. I for one hadn’t considered that you didn’t express your appreciation of his kind words, probably because that’s not what your blog is about.

    It is (and probably will be) a recurring topic that you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. I feel inclined to go down the same path as Plamus did and tell why you seem to contain PhD material, but it would just be a repetition (of what he wrote way better than I could do it). No need to thank anyone in my opinion.

    And by the way, do keep blogging. You still provide some interesting perspective on a lot of things, thumbs up 🙂

    Comment by Pollux | April 22, 2011 | Reply

  2. You are most welcome, US, and perhaps thanks is in order too for the interesting perspectives you share with us. I comment more rarely than I want to – more often than not because the word count on my comments begins to run into the thousands before I have begun to fully explore an issue, and then I begin to feel that I am regurgitating stuff you and your readers already know.

    Also, being self-centered is, in my book, very commendable. I hate to sound like a preachy old surly curmudgeon, but I believe some people are just wired that way (certainly me, probably you too), and you not only learn to live with it, but after some point you won’t have it any other way. For example, I way too self-centered to be able to maintain a stable relationship with a woman, and I definitely would not want to “inflict” such a relationship on one. Most (not all, but by far most, and certainly all that I know) women need certain levels of affection and communication that I can only provide by faking them. Biological procreation does not interest me. I have built for myself a neat cocoon that must look terribly lonely from the outside, but does not require me to waste time and effort signaling status, and leaves me plenty of time to pursue what I find enjoyable, even if conventional wisdom (and my mother) strongly imply I ought to be unhappy and unfulfilled.

    “But you are deluding yourself that you’re happy!” – ring the objections. And I answer: “And you are not?”

    Here’s the immortal poem by Henley that’s on my wall just above my screen:


    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

    Comment by Plamus | April 23, 2011 | Reply

  3. Plamus:

    I don’t think norms impact the happiness of an individual much if s/he don’t care about them, save to the degree that they impact the individual through second order effects like, say, how other people interact with the individual in a different way as a result of those choices – though all of this is of course conditional on you living in a society that in some sense allows you to largely disregard norms (societal norms impact the happiness of Iranian gays quite a bit..).

    The primary role of norms is social control, it’s not about ‘how to find happiness’. People always miss what they don’t/can’t have and find ways to rationalize their behavior anyway, whether that behavior is (conditionally) ‘optimal’ or not. We find ways to rationalize our tradeoffs. We’re very good at that.

    When people give advice to others as to how to live their lives, their advice rarely has much to do with the preferences and choice sets of the other person. Very often the advice supplied seems to rather just be a rehash of the excuses/rationalizations the person giving the advice employs on a daily basis to defend his/her own lifestyle choices against his/her own self-doubt – they’re not trying to convince you, they’re trying to convince themselves. Which is of course never easy, because so much of our behavior is simply a result of on the one hand norms which have nothing to do with happiness and everything to do with how to get other people to live the life you want (/them) to live, and on the other hand habits which we’ve established long ago without even considering beforehand their long run utility effects and which are most often almost impossible to do much about once they’re in place.

    When people give lifestyle advice, they’ll pretty much always tell you how to become more like them. Or perhaps how to become more like a better them, a them without all that self-doubt, guilt ect. Some people are aware of this, most people are not.

    A funny thing is that I keep telling myself from time to time that I am actually trying to become a better person (I’m not sure I am …trying, that is, not becoming…) but really, what’s the point in that if it’s all just shallow posturing and nobody’s even looking anyway? Also, I’m very aware that a lot of the stuff (I tell myself that) I’m trying to do better has a much lower expected return (most of it is partner-related) than other things I could be doing but disregards. Which improves the dating market value most, a shave or reading Bierce? I know the answer but I don’t care. Which is frustrating. Of course another frustrating thing is that the ‘dating market value’ is a hypothetical variable with no real-world relevance, because when did I ever get asked out/asked out someone anyway?

    /Sorry for the rambling nonsense, you’re not the only one with 1000+ word count comments though I tend to post them anyway once they’re written.

    Comment by US | April 26, 2011 | Reply

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